ESPN Research on bias and viewership

(Allen Kee/ESPN Images)

In recent weeks, a frequent story line claims that ESPN is losing viewership because of a liberal bias in our coverage.

Within our Research group, we have actively looked at the question of perceived political bias for more than two years now. We have studied it from all sides of the political spectrum and party affiliation to see how fans react or do not react to our coverage of the intersection of sports and social and political issues.

Our most recent survey was conducted May 3-7 by Langer Research Associates of New York, a nationally recognized and award-winning research firm, the findings belie the notion of any impact on our business:

  • Approximately two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents believe ESPN is getting it right in terms of mixing sports news and political issues. Another 10 percent had no opinion … and 8 percent said ESPN does not do enough politics in its programming.
  • The proportion of viewers who see political bias in ESPN programming is unchanged since this survey was last conducted in October 2016 (even as recent months have seen a rise in the number of media outlets speculating on this theory).
  • Of those who see a bias, 30 percent actually believe ESPN expresses a conservative viewpoint. Most importantly, even those who identify as conservative (or Republican) actually rate ESPN’s overall performance higher than those groups had in October.
  • Of those who see a bias, 30 percent actually believe ESPN expresses a conservative viewpoint. Most importantly, even those who identify as conservative (or Republican) actually rate ESPN’s overall performance higher than those groups had in October.
  • Using a 1-10 scale (with 10 being the best score), strong conservatives rank ESPN at 7.2 and Republicans give a 7.1, both up 0.5 from October. That compares to liberals and Democrats (each at 7.0), and is close to an 8, which is considered “highly rated” (45 percent of the total sample scored ESPN 8-10).

So what conclusions can we draw?

Do some Americans disagree with how certain societal issues are discussed on ESPN platforms when they intersect with the world of sports? No doubt.

Does it affect their viewing behavior? Not in any material way. Indeed, in 2016 and for the third straight year ESPN was the highest-rated full-time cable network among Men and Adults aged 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I have no idea if you have a liberal bias; I think you are stupid, but I’m complaining about your east coast bias.
    I just watched a montage of big opening week plays. Somehow the Oregon opening kickoff return for a TD didn’t make it.
    I realize we are not USC, but new coach and prior ten years earned us a nod. We don’t claim to be contenders this year, but watchout.
    I realize we don’t fill your coffers like SEC teams, but a little respect is due for this small-market team. Your bias and pocketbook are showing.
    Don’t be surprised if you are not sued about your ability to rank players and programs and then decide what is shown on TV.
    Think about it.

  2. “Of those who see a bias, 30 percent actually believe ESPN expresses a conservative viewpoint.”

    It seems like it should then be noted that 70% believe ESPN expresses a liberal viewpoint.. which I would consider an overwhelming majority.

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